Michelle Zauner (a.k.a. Japanese Breakfast) and Ryan Galloway of Crying form a socially distanced, easy-going pop duo whose music offers a brief respite from the times.
Recently, a few critics have classified the year 2013 as a pivotal moment for mainstream music. Remember those days of yore, back when Vampire Weekend reigned supreme, Chance the Rapper felt groundbreaking, and Sky Ferreira actually released music? But 2013 was also a big time for the little guys. That summer, Michelle Zauner, then a member of the rock band Little Big League, shared her first project as Japanese Breakfast, an experimental song-a-day collection titled june. A few months later, Crying, an indie rock by way of chiptune trio out of SUNY Purchase, released their bubbly debut, Get Olde.
Now, Zauner and Crying guitarist Ryan Galloway have collaborated under the name BUMPER. Though Galloway and Zauner live in the same Brooklyn neighborhood, due to COVID-19 quarantine restrictions, BUMPER’s debut EP, pop songs 2020, was constructed over email. These four songs benefit from the ease of its creation; the stakes feel low, just two friends passing drafts back and forth like pen pals.
pop songs 2020 fully indulges the grandiose flourishes that wind through Zauner and Galloway’s respective projects. Opening track “You Can Get It!” is a jolt of pop effervescence that begins with whimsical Lullatone-like electronica and blooms into wistful ’80s sparkle; the impromptu guitar solo that rips through the ending is just icing on the cake. “Red Brick” is similarly pleasant: “Day by day, you give and take/On and on until there’s something,” Zauner sings as the boom of a timpani crashes through her veil of uncertainty. The track is full of other eccentric embellishments—swelling strings, corkscrewing synths—but never becomes bogged down by its jam-packed arrangement.
Lyrically, pop songs 2020 leans towards the gauzy. There’s a general sentiment of chasing something just out of reach, but the verses are hardly specific. “Black Light” approaches an emotional arc as the song’s narrator gazes at a night-owl neighbor devoted to his beats. “First light flits shy in the distance/Your techno jam is through,” a double-tracked Zauner breathily murmurs. “I close my eyes but my heart’s still thumping/And in my dreams your loops.” As a whole, the EP offers a much-needed dopamine rush, but it ends on a melancholic moment. The aptly-titled closer “Ballad O” is a gentle piano and synth reverie that soundtracks the recollection of various mistakes and regrets. “I never knew I’d wind up here, to take up arms/At men at bars,” Zauner concludes forlornly.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, some have fretted about whether or not upbeat pop music has a place during an international time of mourning and upheaval. But pop songs 2020 is a reminder that euphoric music will always be a balm, a temporary escape from reality.
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